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7 takeaways from our webinar: Meeting of minds: A conversation about mental health

Our latest webinar aimed to tackle some key questions around mental health and shone a light on a topic of ever-growing importance. Host Rachel Sandby-Thomas was joined by alumna and GP Dr Afiniki Akanet and globally-renowned academics Professor Swaran Preet Singh from Warwick Medical School and Professor Andrew Oswald from the Department of Economics.

You can watch the webinar recording here or keep reading for our top takeaways…

This webinar may contain discussion of sensitive subjects that may be triggering for some individuals. Please find links to useful resources here.

1. When we’re in our peak health, aged 16-25, we’re at our most vulnerable psychologically

Teenage angst is a real thing and as soon as we hit puberty our peers, rather than our parents, have the major influence on our decisions. Social media also comes into play and young people are being exposed to influences that haven’t existed in the world before. This is why it’s important to put structures in place around young people to build their resilience.

“Young people are being left to their own devices literally.”

Swaran Preet Singh

2. Emotion can outpace judgement

Puberty can have a big impact on our physical and mental health. At this time, the part of the brain driven by emotion and desires grows faster than the part of the brain that exercises judgement and restraint. This carries on until we reach the age of 25 when the two parts become in sync.

3. The midlife crisis is a real phenomenon

Data suggests that sleep disorders, migraines, and intense job stress all have a tendency to peak around the late 40s. Not much is known about why this time is so crucial, but research into great apes have found similar patterns, which indicate it could be physiological or hormonal.

“The key thing is just wait because the happiness curves go shooting up.”

Andrew Oswald

4. Happiness peaks at 73

The good thing is that after the midlife crisis, there is a great psychological recovery. The happiness curve, which lowers during midlife, goes shooting up and the happiest people on average in England are aged 73. But if you aren’t there yet, there are ways to counteract the crisis and boost your mental wellbeing.

5. Count the mental health costs of tomorrow

Our panel had lots of ideas for boosting mental health. A former Oxford academic recommended Scottish country dancing as a way to improve your mental health because it combines exercise, friendship, and music.
As we strive in the workplace, we may choose to do longer commutes and focus less on our friendships, but both these can have a negative effect on our mental wellbeing going forward. Investing in friendships, volunteering, and finding new goals can help to counteract this. It’s also important to consider how our decisions of today can impact our mental health in the future.

“You’re never too old to dream and have new hopes.”

Dr Afiniki Akanet

6. Change over authenticity

Making the right changes in our life can help to improve our mental wellbeing. We might want to join a gym or meet more people to support our wellbeing, but this may lead us to step out of our comfort zone and we may be accused of not being our authentic selves by those that know us best But the long term benefits for our wellbeing far outweigh staying in the status quo.

7. How can we support others to get help?

There are three main factors to look out for: duration, severity and disfunction. Most important of these is dysfunction and the impact it has on someone’s life. They may not even be aware it’s a problem and that’s because when we think about mental illness we tend to think about other people. So the best way to try to help them is to remind them that they’re not functioning at their best. They’re not being the person they want to be and there is a way to change that.

Please find links to useful resources.